Of Calvin and Hobbes
By Yasmin Daniel of 1st JIP. This piece won Fandom Menace at Metonym 2020.
Hobbes didn’t know what to think.
Actually, scratch that. Hobbes hadn’t known what to think when Calvin had proudly presented his new machine; or what to think when the machine actually worked (Calvin’s machines had a surprising habit of working against the principles of physics); or when they chanced upon their new friends; and he certainly didn’t know what to think now, as their compatriots faced a torrent of furious words from Calvin’s mother.
But he’s getting ahead of himself.
4 hours ago
It started when Calvin sauntered into their room, smirking. Hobbes had been looking forward to a quiet day of lying in bed and reading Calvin’s (no, theirs, he corrected himself) comics all day, but when he saw the look on the young boy’s face, he groaned. Tigers have an astute sense of when someone is absolutely determined. Abandoning all thoughts of a lazy day, Hobbes sat up straighter. “Well?” he inquired. “Why do you have that expression on your face?”
Calvin immediately sprang into an excited lecture about his new machine, which was a contraption that could travel between universes. Calvin called it the Parallaxine – “because it’s a machINE, and it can travel between parallel universes, Hobbes, do you get it? It’s a terrific name”. There had been a few private eyerolls on Hobbes’ part, but thankfully Calvin hadn’t noticed, too busy in showing off his new machine, which looked suspiciously like a cardboard box with a few bottle caps stuck on the inside. Dials, Calvin called them, explaining that one had to measure vertical flight angles, another had to measure quantum vortex levels, and yet another – a charming bright blue fruit juice cap – was responsible for aerodynamic speed-to-distance ratio. In spite of all of Calvin’s enthusiastic declarations (or perhaps because of them), Hobbes remained wary of the machine. He knew how Calvin’s previous innovations had turned out (he still had nightmares about the transmogrifier) and he didn’t want to get zapped into an alternate universe and get stuck there. But Calvin was so keen on trying it out, and Hobbes wouldn’t have been a very good tiger if he let his weak, vulnerable human friend go traipsing across the galaxies on his own. He let out a deep sigh, reluctantly put on the goggles that Calvin provided, and held on for dear life.
3 hours ago
Hobbes was awestruck.
There was no other word for it. Calvin had somehow, against all odds, managed to get his Parallaxine up and running, and blasted off. Even more miraculously, he’d steered them around planets, asteroid belts, and flaming comets, before twisting a bottle cap and sending them spiralling. Hobbes remembered screaming bloody murder, feeling like his face was peeling off as they were subjected to the pressures of the space-time continuum. But when they landed in a strange, foreign land, his fears were replaced by wonder. All around them, people were dressed in robes of green, blue, red, and yellow. Someone in shades of red was twirling a flame around their fingertip. A girl in green was moving her hands in a push-and-pull motion, and as Hobbes watched, the field she was standing in rumbled, and then shifted as though an invisible hand had run a plough through it. Hobbes couldn’t believe his eyes. He took in all of this in a few microseconds before the Parallaxine thudded to a halt against a rock. Immediately, everyone in the vicinity turned to look at them. Varying expressions of shock plastered the faces of the locals. The shock wore off almost immediately, though, and the two youths who had been manipulating the elements now ran up beside Calvin and Hobbes and stood poised with their hands raised.
“Who are you?” they had demanded, their tone and body language defensive. Stuttering, eyes wide, Calvin had tried to explain himself. The locals didn’t seem to buy it – they had encircled the pair and Hobbes had felt his hackles rise. Until, an old man with sideburns and a flowing beard stepped forward from the crowd. He too was dressed in robes of red and dark maroon. On his shoulder sat an animal unlike any that Hobbes had ever seen. It had large, round eyes and a face like a lemur, a slender body and tail like a monkey, but ears like a rabbit. It blinked at Hobbes. Hobbes blinked back.
The man had introduced himself as Iroh, and gestured to the creature on his shoulder, calling it Momo. I’m taking care of him for Aang, he’d said, stroking Momo’s head. He had a jovial, grandfatherly air about him. He was clearly an influential figure amongst the people – as soon as he started speaking, the others fell silent. He’d smiled at Calvin and Hobbes, and Hobbes felt an unusual sense of peace. “There’s only one way to make sure that these travellers are telling the truth about coming from a different universe”, Iroh had said. “I should make a trip with them.”
The next few minutes passed in a blur. There were protests. One man argued that if Iroh went with these strangers, he might never come back. It simply wasn’t safe! The smile never left Iroh’s face. “I am getting old, Zhui. I would like to have one last adventure. I’m sure that this lovely boy will deposit me back home safe and sound.” Calvin’s high pitched voice joined the cacophony, saying that he hadn’t brought extra goggles, but would otherwise have loved to take Iroh and Momo on a trip around the universes. Iroh had laughed and told Calvin not to worry, and then produced a pair of old-fashioned glasses that looked like they had been cut from quartz. Momo, he said, would be fine as long as he hid in the folds of Iroh’s robe.
Finally Iroh’s decision was accepted. He and Momo clambered into the Parallaxine – it was a bit of a tight fit, but Hobbes didn’t mind. Calvin turned the dials, and they were hurtling through space once more.
One hour ago
Hobbes knew that he shouldn’t have agreed to bring back Iroh and Momo. He shouldn’t have agreed to take the trip with Calvin at all. Something was bound to go wrong – something always went wrong with Calvin’s plans. It was sheer luck that nothing had gone awry when they were whizzing around the universes, but of course, the bad luck was only accumulating, building up to come crashing down in a tidal wave at the last second.
It did seem anticlimactic that this unfortunate tsunami had to happen back at home, though.
They’d made it back safely and had snuck Iroh and Momo into the house. They’d shown them the television, the vacuum cleaner, the comics, and Calvin’s homework. Iroh seemed most fascinated by an untouched peanut butter sandwich on Calvin’s desk. “It’s a paste made of nuts! I must try this when I go back to Ba Sing Se.”
Calvin, in a spirited manner, had suggested that he and Hobbes go to the drugstore to get some candy for Iroh and Momo to try. Now, Hobbes was weary. He’d had a long day of jumping from one universe to the other, meeting people who could somehow control natural elements (if he thought about that any longer, his brain was going to explode), and bringing back a cheerful old man and an animal that was very keen on pinching Hobbes’ tail. Later, when he reflected, he reasoned that it was because of his overwhelmed state of mind that he readily accepted Calvin’s suggestion and left Iroh and Momo alone.
Someone was screaming bloody murder in the house.
Calvin, who’d until then been perusing the bag of candy and wondering which one to give their new friends first, looked terror-stricken at the sound of the raised voice. In a horrified whisper, he’d said, “That’s mom, Hobbes. She must have gone into my room and found Iroh and Momo. Quick! Open the door!” As soon as Hobbes had opened the front door, the two of them bolted up the stairs and burst into the room.
Iroh, for his part, still looked sedate and unbothered, completely at home on Calvin’s bed. Standing a few feet away from him, hands on her hips, Calvin’s mother screeched at him in a mix of English, Irish, and German. His furred companion took refuge in his flowing beard. The woman continued abusing them in three languages, yet Iroh had no trace of alarm on his face.
At the sound of Calvin and Hobbes entering the room, Calvin’s mother wheeled around. Taking note of the panicked, agape expressions on their faces, she immediately launched into another flurry of words. “Calvin, who is this? Do you know this man? Do you know how many times I’ve told you to stay away from strangers? He could be a paedophile, or a kidnapper, or a paedophilic kidnapper! Why do you never listen to me? Explain yourself this instant!”
Calvin shared a single nervous look with Hobbes. “Well –“